An expert of deadpan humor, Ben Simmons did well to keep a straight face for the start of an answer Friday morning about his relationship with Joel Embiid.
“It’s good,” he said. “I’m moving in with Jo this month to get close with him and learn his game and know him off the court.”
He then paused, looked up and smiled for a moment before continuing. Perhaps not everyone on his virtual call with reporters picked up the joke but no, the 24-year-old Simmons is not moving in with the 26-year-old Embiid, who welcomed his first child in September.
Simmons agrees with Dwight Howard’s opinion that it’s helpful for star players to understand each other away from basketball, though he doesn’t seem to think that being as inseparable as Howard described the LeBron James and Anthony Davis pairing is necessary.
“We hang out,” Simmons said. “Everyone’s life is different but I think we’re only going to grow and get better with time. Everyone has their personal things that they do … but Jo and I are great. I think over time our relationship continues to grow; we keep gelling over time and getting to know each other off the floor also. And that translates to on the floor, and Dwight is completely right about that. I think this year is going to be great for us.”
Simmons, after undergoing season-ending left knee surgery in August, said his health is “100 percent.” He was less direct on the inevitable question of his jump shot. At media day last year, he said he’d shoot three-pointers if they were open, then made 2 of 3 non-heave three-point attempts and 4 of 30 two-pointers from 10 feet and out.
“It’s important to make shots but it’s more important to win,” he said. “However the winning happens, it happens. I know (head coach Doc Rivers) and (assistant coach Sam Cassell) are going to put me in the right positions to do that and be dominant so I’m just looking forward to getting out there and seeing what they have to offer in terms of my situation on the floor and where I’m going to be.”
A world in which mid-range shots are remotely efficient for Simmons appears improbable in the near future, and we imagine analytically inclined Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey would agree on that point. Entering his fourth professional season, Simmons displaying any kind of meaningful in-game three-point marksmanship also continues to look unlikely.
Rivers’ hope for Simmons is not a specific volume of jump shots, but for the All-NBA Third Team selection to play “free” and attack the rim. Simmons is behind that idea.
“As soon as you step past that three-point line, it’s a two-pointer. My job is to get to the rim and get fouled, get to the line. I’m obviously trying to get to the line a lot more this year, be a threat at the rim and just play my game — get guys open and make plays.”
Simmons has trended upward in terms of how often he shoots at the rim. Per Cleaning the Glass, 71 percent of his attempts were at the rim in the 2019-20 season, up from 69 percent the year prior and 54 percent his rookie year. Of course, those numbers align with him taking fewer jumpers.
His free throw rate has followed a similar pattern, as has his free throw percentage (62.1 percent last year). With the assistance of Rivers and Cassell, Simmons is optimistic he can move further in the right direction as a speedy, physically imposing driver and paint scorer.
“Yeah, so far I feel like he’s just letting me play,” Simmons said of Rivers. “For me, I’m a very creative player. I’m able to make plays, whether it’s scoring or getting somebody open or just making the right play. I think he’s just allowing me to do that and putting me in the right situations to do so.
"And then on top of that, I’ve been working with Sam a lot. For me, he’s kind of just breaking it down, putting my game to a certain speed where it’s not always downhill attack. Sometimes it’s sizing guys up and taking my time."
He’s also looking forward to running more pick-and-rolls under Rivers and having a sweet-shooting dribble handoff partner in Seth Curry.
“In my opinion, DHOs have always been big for me,” Simmons said, “especially because if I’m giving a guard a DHO and he doesn’t go over and you’ve got Seth coming off, Seth’s going to knock that down. You go under, I’m resetting the pick and he’s going to knock it down. If you switch, then I’ve got a guard on me. I think DHOs have always been big in my game.
"And then pick-and-roll, I can’t wait to get into that. I haven’t been able to run pick-and-roll since I’ve been with the Sixers, so that’s also a huge part of the game. Just developing that and working with Jo on pick-and-roll I think is going to be nice.”
From what we can tell, Simmons was serious in that analysis. The off-court living arrangements are a different story.
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